CAPSS Public Policy priorities for 2017
The Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS) advances its 2017 Public Policy Agenda for purposes of fostering equity, excellence and innovation in Connecticut’s public schools in alignment with a vision that articulates a schooling that is personalized so that every child learns what they need to know and be able to do to be successful in post high school endeavors.
Policy recommendations are listed below; the complete Agenda may be viewed/downloaded here.
Over many years, the state government has imposed on local and regional school districts many mandates. Some of those mandates are directly related to the mission of public education and many of them are not. All of those that are not directly related to the mission of the public schools have constituted a considerable mission creep that has diverted staff time and financial resources from efforts to accomplish the basic mission of the public schools. Some of those that are directly related to the schools’ mission have been so crafted as to cause the allocation of more staff time and financial resources than are necessary to meet the basic mission of the schools.
When the state government estimates the cost of these mandates, the government almost always either grossly underestimates the local cost or does not consider the local cost at all.
In addition, the deadline that is often set for the meeting of these mandates does not afford local school districts sufficient time to do so.
In addition to all of this, the mandates in many cases are integrated with other mandates so that there now exists a complex structure of mandates. This makes consideration of relief from just one mandate almost impossible to be done without considering the impact of that relief upon the implementation of other mandates. In other words, mandates have been imposed for the most part without the benefit of analysis of the systemic impact of each mandate individually and of the entire mandate structure as a whole.
Finally, in no instances has the state government allocated sufficient state funds to cover the entire cost of any state imposed mandate. Accordingly, at least partially unfunded mandates have become the norm.
All of this now constitutes a major impediment for local school districts as they strive to transform themselves to become what they need to be in order to meet the expectation that every child will leave public education prepared to continue learning what they need to know and be able to do to lead decent and productive lives and to be effective citizens in a democracy.
CAPSS supports all efforts by any of the branches of state government to undertake a comprehensive study of the mandate structure that has been imposed on local school districts with a view towards identifying and eliminating any mandates that are significant hindrances to the efforts of local districts to improve and transform themselves.
CAPSS also strongly urges the state government to refrain from imposing any additional mandates upon local school districts until the present mandate structure has been studied and reformed.
Children with special educational needs need to have those needs accommodated in an effective manner in public schools. School districts across CT make a major effort in this regard all the time. Those efforts, however, are hindered by four factors, financial, regulatory, statutory and lack of interagency responsibility.
The financial factor has two components:
- There is inadequate financial support for special education programs from both the federal and state levels. The federal government which mandates provision of effective programs for children with special needs has never met its own goal to cover 40% of the cost of meeting this mandate country wide. The state government eliminated a number of years ago a general special education grant to local districts and underfunds the only remaining special education grant which is designed to provide financial relief to districts that incur excessively expensive program placements for some children with special needs.
- Given the facts that every child who has special needs has a legal right to have those needs met, that how many of these children there are in a given district each year and that what the cost of meeting these needs is very difficult to estimate when annual school district budgets are enacted, it is very difficult to budget for special education programs at the local level.
The regulatory factor is the automatic placement on local school districts of the burden of proof in all cases in which parents and district staff do not agree on an appropriate program for a child and that, therefore, are submitted to due process. This occurs regardless of which party brings the matter to due process. As a result, whenever a parent brings a case to due process, a district has to predict its chances of prevailing in the case when despite the fact that it is the defendant, the district has been assigned the burden of proof. When a district judges that it might not be able to meet this legal burden, it most often agrees to a program that is more programmatically than the one to which the child is entitled and that is more expensive as well. Accordingly, funds are spent needlessly on children with special needs and this compromises the ability of districts to provide adequate educational programs to children without special needs.
It should be noted that the United States Supreme Court has ruled that the burden of proof in special education due process can be assigned to the party that brings the matter to due process and that CT is one of a small minority of states in the country that does not assign the burden to that party.
The statutory factor is embedded in state legislation that allows
parents to unilaterally arrange for an evaluation of their children at district expense.
The interagency responsibility factor relates to the practice of the efforts of the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to require school districts to pay for the residential costs as well as the educational costs in connection with placements of children for whom DCF has responsibility. Heretofore, DCF has paid for the residential costs and school districts have paid for the educational costs.
That the funding cap on the Special Education Excess Cost Grant be removed and that the State redefine excess cost to be three times a district’s per pupil expenditure.
That the burden of proof in special education due process be assigned to the party that brings the matter to due process.
That the CT School Finance Project and other developers of viable and research based projects be encouraged to continue developing their proposals to make annual special education costs predictable and to include CAPSS in the conversations related to the development of these proposals.
That state statute be revised to require parents to obtain authorization from school districts for the evaluation of their children if they expect districts to pay for the evaluations.
That DCF fulfill all its responsibilities to children for whom it has responsibility.
In 7/15, the Legislature included in the annual Implementer Bill a provision that if it remains in statute would put in FY 2017 a cap on increases of municipal budgets including the allocation to the school system that serves the municipality of 2.5%. This provision was passed without even discussion on the floor of the Legislature much less any public hearing. The Governor signed the Implementer Bill.
Any cap on municipal expenditures is problematic for the following reasons.
The needs of a community and of a school system vary from year to year. To meet those needs, therefore, communities and school systems need to have the flexibility to propose appropriate budgets and not be prevented from implementing those budgets by artificial and arbitrary percentage caps.
Because the cap is a fixed percentage that applies to all municipalities, it will increase the financial inequity between relatively affluent municipalities and those that are relatively less affluent. The same percentage applied to a larger base as opposed to a smaller base increases the larger base at a larger dollar amount than the increase in the smaller base.
That the spending cap be repealed.
Despite the fact that just about every municipality in CT had received prior to school year 2016-17 for three years in a row at least a slight increase in its Education Cost Sharing (ECS) Grant, despite that fact that thirty school districts had received for two years via the Alliance District program substantial conditional grants targeted on improving student achievement and because most school districts experienced a reduction in State funding in 2016-17 while Alliance Districts were at best flat funded, CT’s school districts have not regained the purchasing power that they lost due to many years of inadequate state funding for education, years during which those districts incurred cost increases of approximately 3%. The result of this has been a gradual decrease in the scope of the educational programs offered to CT’s children and in some cases, there has been a decrease in quality as well. This situation must be addressed by an increase in the ECS Program in the next two years which increase will begin to regain for districts the purchasing power that they had a number of years ago.
In addition, the State has for many years in accordance with the Sheff vs. O’Neill settlement incentivized boards of education of communities in the Hartford area to accept students from Hartford via the Open Choice Program. Because some of the students who live in Hartford but who have been enrolled in a community in the Hartford area have special needs, the State has also provided for the boards in these communities funds via the Open Choice Academic Support Grant. This grant was severely reduced for the 2016-17 school year thus placing upon the school districts the financial burden of meeting the special needs of these students. If the Grant is not fully restored in 2017-18, many communities in the Hartford area that presently participate in Open Choice will consider reducing their participation to avoid what is becoming in essence an unfunded mandate.
The ECS Program be increased by 4% in 2017-18.
The Alliance District Program continue to be fully funded in 2017-18
The Open Choice Academic Support Grant be fully funded in 2017-18.
To varying extents, Alliance Districts face the challenge presented when the local municipality does not provide sufficient funds for the basic operation of the school system at the same time that the districts have to use the Alliance District Grant to implement strategies aimed at increasing student achievement. When there aren’t sufficient funds to maintain basic school system operations such as maintaining class size, student achievement is impacted negatively and that impact operates against any positive impact that might accrue from the use of Alliance District funds.
This situation is a symptom of the fact that the CT system for funding public education is in need of systemic reform.
That the State Government initiate an effort to develop and implement an education funding system that is based on the funds required to provide for every child in the state the educational program that each child needs.
That while this new system is being developed:
Municipalities that receive Alliance District Funds be prohibited from assigning to school system budgets functions that have been included in the local municipality’s budget prior to the inception of the Alliance District Program.
Municipalities be prohibited from using Alliance District funds to supplant locally provided financial support for public schools.
CAPSS, by virtue of the Board of Directors approval of the recommendations contained in the CAPSS Educational Transformation Report, is committed to working towards the adoption of a mastery based - personalized learning system in the State. For example.
CT school districts can now award diplomas based on student demonstration of mastery of content and skills and not on accumulating credits in the traditional manner.
The CT State Board of Education has made the implementation of mastery based – personalized learning a major component of its Five Year Strategic Plan.
Over thirty high schools are in various stages of converting to mastery based diplomas.
Approximately fifteen school districts are in various stages of transforming themselves to a mastery based – personalized learning structure.
Revise the graduation requirements that are presently scheduled to go into effect with the Class of 2022 so that the new requirements do not impede the implementation of mastery based diplomas
Revise state statutes to allow students to progress based on demonstration of competencies as opposed to attending school for six hours a day, 180 days a year for thirteen years.
Advocate for state statutes that promote multiple pathways for learning such as workplace internships, independent study, early college enrollment and/or project based experiences outside of school and that ensure equal opportunity for students to access such paths.
Advocate for state statutes that would establish a schedule of state tests whereby the tests would be offered four times each school year so that students could access the tests at the one time during the school year when their teachers decide they are ready to take the tests.
Strengthen state statutes that allow school districts to grant high school diplomas based on student demonstrations of competencies instead of seat time by authorizing multiple assessment pathways that can be accessed by students when teachers deem them ready instead of only once each school year.
Revise state statutes to reflect a three to six year high graduation time frame for calculating graduation rates and to include as graduates students who successfully complete their high school education in adult education programs and students who receive a passing grade on the GED exam.
Revise the Student Data Privacy Act to eliminate and/or revise those provisions of the ACT that unnecessarily impede student learning.
The people of CT expect their public education system to address the achievement gap between the state’s children who live in poverty and those who do not and the achievement gap between the state’s highest performing students and their counterparts internationally. For these problems to be addressed successfully, a transformation of the public education system to a personalized learning structure has to be initiated and completed. For such a transformation to take place at the local district level, there has to be stability of leadership at that level.
Stability is not enhanced by present statutes that make the performance evaluation document of the superintendent a public record. Because any recommendations for improvement of performance made by boards of education are frequently taken as evidence that a board of education is not pleased with the overall performance of the superintendent, the following occurs, a number of boards do not do written evaluation of the performance of superintendents and the result is an absence of any record regarding that performance.
It is difficult to maintain stability of leadership when a local board of education is prohibited by law from contracting with a superintendent of schools for more than three years. All the research on institutional change indicates that it takes at least five years to bring about sustainable systemic change. When there is no guarantee that the person who is responsible for leading the change will be there for more than three years, the change process is compromised.
It is also difficult to maintain stability of leadership when local boards of education can terminate the existing contracts of superintendents by using a procedure that embodies due process in name only. That procedure is one in which a board votes to consider the termination of a superintendent’s contract, holds a hearing on whether to terminate the contract and then, has the right to terminate the contract. In this procedure, the board is at one and the same time, the grand jury that indicts the superintendents and the jury that decides whether the superintendent is guilty.
That written evaluations of the performance of a superintendent of schools be removed from the status of a public record.
That the statutory limit on superintendents’ contracts be eliminated and length of contract be a matter on which a local board and a local superintendent come to agreement.
That there be a statutory process for terminating a superintendent’s contract and that the process be the following:
The board votes to consider terminating the superintendent’s contract.
There is a hearing before an impartial arbitrator on whether there are sufficient grounds to terminate the contract.
The arbitrator issues a finding of fact as to whether there are sufficient grounds for terminating the contract.
Both the board and the superintendent have to abide with the finding of arbitrator.
The Student Data Privacy Act that was enacted by the State Government in 2016 seeks to protect confidential information regarding students but does so at the cost of imposing on school systems burdens that can impede student learning. It makes little sense for state statutes to impede student learning in order to protect the privacy of student data. In addition, it makes even less sense to force a choice between enhanced student learning and the protection of the privacy of student data.
Accordingly, CAPSS recommends a revision of the Student Data Privacy Act to eliminate and/or revise those provisions of the Act that unnecessarily impede student learning in order to protect the privacy of student data.
An Act Concerning the Disclosure of Certain Education Personnel Records, Criminal Penalties for Threatening in Educational Settings and the Exclusion of a Minor’s Name from Summary Process Complaints.
This Public Act is the one that requires extensive background checks before a school district hires anyone and involves getting reference from any employee for whom a prospective employee worked in which the prospective employee had direct contact with children. This is a law that already is having an impact on school systems. Some have had to hire additional staff in human resources to manage the load, some have had to reassign staff from other important and necessary functions to deal with the massive amount of paper work involved and some systems are having difficulty keeping up.
Accordingly, attention has to be given to:
Preserving the prohibition of actions by school districts whereby due to separation agreements with personnel, the problematic behavior of said personnel is not shared by prospective employers.
The necessity for school districts to re-examine the background of a prospective employee when a district for which the individual has previously worked has already examined that background.
Other statute revisions that would ensure the safety of children while not requiring school districts to initiate actions that ensure that safety in a no more than a marginal way.
Establishing either a statewide or regional data system which districts could access to do the appropriate background checks.
CAPSS, therefore, proposes that the Education Committee of the Legislature form a group composed of relevant stakeholders including superintendents of schools and that the group be charged with recommending revisions of the statute so that there are reasonable protections against the hiring by school systems of personnel whose prior behavior make them unsuitable for working in institutions that serve children and that remove from statute unnecessarily required actions by districts.
Statutory Time Requirement Regarding the Programs Provided for Students Who are Expelled - Priority Recommendation
A statute enacted in the 2016 session of the Legislature prescribes that any student who is expelled from a CT school district be given an educational program that aligns with the provision of 900 hours of instruction on an annual basis. This costly statutory requirement is unnecessary because:
Programs provided for expelled students are for the most part tutorial in nature so that what might need 900 hours to accomplish in a classroom setting is not needed in a tutorial setting.
The provision continues the policy of equating quality of program with how long a program is offered without sufficient attention paid to what students actually learn.
That State Statute be revised to remove the 900 hour requirement of programs provided for students who are expelled.
The CT Association of Boards of Education (CABE) and the CT Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS) believe that local school districts need to be organized around a structure that makes the needs of students the central focal point. CABE and CAPSS further believe that the needs of all students will be met when every child receives a high quality PK – 12 public school education and that, as a result, every child graduates from high school prepared for gainful employment, military service, postsecondary education or advanced training and also graduates prepared for responsible citizenship and full participation in national, state and local democratic institutions.
The two organizations have concluded that if the needs of students are to be the central focal point in an educational system, that system must be personalized. A personalized learning system transforms schooling by providing student voice and choice on what, where, and how students learn in relation to standards-based, world-class knowledge and skills. In this personalized learning system:
Every student works closely with teachers to establish goals and the pace for learning, pursues investigations or projects to demonstrate goals, regularly evaluates progress in relation to those goals, and communicates results as an indication of mastery.
Every teacher builds professional relationships with every learner to provide expertise, guidance and support in learning content, developing skills, and thinking strategically.
Every learning community both within and outside of school offers students opportunity to learn from experience through application in authentic situations.
Acting on these beliefs, CABE and CAPSS have adopted the position that local school districts must be able to achieve economies of scale in order to have the capacity and resources to meet the needs of all the students whom they serve. For this reason, CABE and CAPSS view efforts to personalize learning in CT’s public schools as effective strategies for increasing student achievement.
So that all districts have the capacity to meet the needs of every child whom they serve, CABE and CAPSS, make the following recommendations.
A three year state grant be established whereby school districts and Regional Education Service Centers (RESCs) receive the funds that they need to establish a sufficient number of staff positions and other needed support to implement a personalized learning system. The definition of sufficiency in this regard would be developed by a task force for this purpose and state funds would be provided on a scale whereby 100% of the cost would be granted in the first year of the grant, 67% in the second year and 33% in the third.
The following three-year plan be implemented:
Establish a program which provides financial incentives over five years for districts that choose to do so to establish common functions, including but not limited to common calendars, transportation contracts, health insurance, food service, building and grounds, professional development activities and common curriculum development projects and to regionalize functions including but not limited to human resources, business management, special education management and provision and adoption of common curricula. Realized savings would be reinvested in personnel and resources that support effective instruction.
Provide incentives to RESCs to identify and/or create programs and student driven activities and services that may be made available to any student in a defined regional area not limited to municipal entities. Provide state funds to cover related costs that are thus incurred.
Transfer to RESCs with the approval of the local school districts involved responsibilities along with appropriate state funding to serve their catchment areas with multiple programming choices for all children regardless of residence within those areas. This will be done without an undue financial burden placed on local districts or RESCs.
Presently a municipality may reduce its Minimum Budget Requirement (MBR) by one half a school district’s per student expenditure for every student drop in enrollment. This is much more than what a district saves for each individual student drop in enrollment.
That the amount by which a municipality may reduce its MBR per student drop in enrollment be the amount that a district actually saves per student drop in enrollment.
The State of CT is now in the midst of a time in which the State does not appear to have the revenue needed to provide the services that many State residents seek from the State. The predominant component of the public discussion regarding reactions to this situation has been to focus on expenditure reductions instead of revenue enhancement. This is not only an unbalanced approach to the problem but is also counterproductive because expenditure reductions result in reducing and/or eliminating services that make CT an attractive place in which to live.
This is particularly accurate as it applies to public education. It is commonly accepted that a strong public education system is vital to the viability of the State economically and socially yet it is commonly accepted that the State will follow a reduction in financial support for public education in 2016-17 with further reductions for the next two fiscal years.
All of this puts the State in a position close to trying to save a sinking ship by reducing the money available to repair the holes in the hull.
That the State Government establish a commission, give it one year to complete its work and charge it with:
Recommending ways in which State revenue can be enhanced so that the State can provide the services desired by its citizens.
Recommending ways in which the State can provide at lower expense the services desired by its citizens with no loss of quality.
That the State Government require that the State Board of Education establish a working group, give it one year to accomplish its work and charge it with identifying statutory, regulatory and policy provisions that prevent reductions in educational expenditures at the state and local levels without a reduction in the quality of educational programming.